What is the Difference Between Vitamins and Minerals?

Mar 06, 2023 FAQs 7 MIN

What is the Difference Between Vitamins and Minerals?

Quick Health Scoop:

  • Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients, that must be found in your diet.
  • Each vitamin and mineral plays a specific role in maintaining your health and well-being.
  • Many individuals are not getting enough of the vitamins and minerals they need from their diet.

Beyond getting the right amount of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats in our diets, we also need vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. These small nutrients make a world of difference in how we feel day to day, our mood, brain function, and help our bodies stay healthy.

Now you may be asking yourself, what is the difference between vitamins and minerals? Well, vitamins and minerals are both essential nutrients that must come from our diets to keep the body functioning.

The main difference between vitamins and minerals is based on their chemical makeup. Vitamins are organic compounds and can be broken down by heat, air, or acid. Minerals are considered inorganic compounds and hold onto their chemical structure even if exposed to heat, air, or acid. Minerals in soil and water find their way into your body when you eat or drink.

What are vitamins?

As mentioned earlier, a major difference between vitamins and minerals is that vitamins are organic compounds. This means that vitamins contain carbon-to-hydrogen molecular bonds, and inorganic compounds like minerals do not have carbon-to-hydrogen bonds.

How are vitamins classified?

Vitamins are classified by how they are absorbed in the body, either in fats or with water.

The four fat-soluble vitamins are Vitamins A, D, E, and K. Once they are absorbed, these vitamins are stored in the liver, muscles, and fat. Fat-soluble vitamins can naturally be found in fatty foods like fish and fish oils, egg yolks, dairy, and liver. 

Water-soluble vitamins are absorbed alongside water and are not stored for long periods of time in the body. There are nine water-soluble vitamins in total – Vitamin C and the B vitamins Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folate, Pantothenic acid, Biotin, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12. These vitamins are commonly found in animal products, legumes, leafy greens, whole grains and fortified cereals, and nuts and seeds.

Learn more: How long do vitamins stay in your system?

What do vitamins do?

Now that we’ve taken a look at how vitamins are classified, let’s answer the question of what do vitamins do for the body. [1-10]

  • Vitamin A – supports skin health, healthy vision, and immune health
  • Vitamin D – supports bone health and healthy immune cell function
  • Vitamin E – important for antioxidant activity and supports the body’s natural immune defenses
  • Vitamin K – needed for supporting healthy artery and vascular function
  • Vitamin C – needed for immune system support, acts as an antioxidant, and is essential for collagen synthesis to support skin health
  • Thiamine – important for cellular energy production and supports nervous system function
  • Riboflavin – acts as an antioxidant and helps convert food into cellular energy
  • Niacin – supports cellular energy production and nervous system function
  • Pantothenic acid – helps support cellular energy production and the body’s natural stress response
  • Folate – helps support red blood cell formation and production of neurotransmitters and SAM-e
  • Biotin – supports the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and fats and helps and is a nutrient that supports healthy skin and hair
  • Vitamin B6 – supports cellular energy production and nervous system function
  • Vitamin B12 – supports nervous system function and cellular energy production

What are minerals

How are minerals classified?

Minerals used in the body are classified by the amount that your body needs. Major minerals (also known as macrominerals) are needed in large amounts and include Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfur. Trace minerals are needed in small amounts and include Iron, Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Iodine, Selenium, and Fluoride.

Varying minerals are available from different food groups in our diet. Plant-based foods naturally absorb minerals as they grow, and animals absorb minerals as they eat plants.

What do minerals do?

The main functions of minerals include maintaining strong bones and teeth, supporting fluid balance in the body, helping the normal nervous system and muscle function, and activating enzymes and hormones.  [11-24]

  • Calcium – supports strong and healthy bones
  • Phosphorus –involved in the structure of bone and cell membranes
  • Potassium –helps support heart, nerve, and muscle function
  • Magnesium – supports bone muscle and nerve and heart health and essential for more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body
  • Sodium – An electrolyte that helps regulate fluid balance and conduct nerve impulse.
  • Chloride – Works together with sodium and helps maintain fluid balance.
  • Sulfur – A trace element used by the body in collagen, connective tissue, and joint cartilage.   
  • Iron – necessary for red blood cell formation
  • Copper – provides antioxidant support and helps support a healthy immune system
  • Zinc –  provides antioxidant supports and helps support a  healthy immune response
  • Manganese – Involved in carbohydrate, amino acid, and cholesterol metabolism.    
  • Iodine – Essential for thyroid health and function.  
  • Selenium – antioxidant support and a key nutrient for a healthy immune system
  • Fluoride – Needed for the development and strength of teeth and bones.

Why do we need vitamins and minerals?

As you can see, vitamins and minerals are essential for optimal functioning throughout the day, playing a role in all of our body’s processes. Due to trends in the average American diet, we may not be getting enough micronutrients to function at our best.

One study looking at the intake of immune health-supporting nutrients found that in a representative sample of 26,282 adults, the prevalence of inadequate nutrient intake was 45% for Vitamin A, 46% for Vitamin C, 95% for Vitamin D, 84% for Vitamin E, and 15% for Zinc. [25]

Another study on the same population found that U.S. adults did not meet the current dietary recommendations for Vitamin C or fat-soluble vitamins, nor was the recommended intake met for Magnesium, Calcium, or Choline. [26]

Knowing that many adults may be at risk for at least one micronutrient nutritional gap, you may be wondering “Should I take a multivitamin?” Taking a daily multivitamin like Multi for Him or Multi for Her can help fill in nutrient gaps that may not be a result of your daily diet.

Before starting a vitamin routine, speak with your doctor and inquire about lab testing to know which vitamins and minerals you may need to supplement. Depending on our life stage or individual nutritional needs, we may need additional vitamins or minerals.

It takes some time for our bodies to have adequate vitamin levels, so having a daily vitamin routine can help make sure your body’s vitamin levels stay within normal limits. Set reminders, have an accountability partner for taking vitamins, or even put them in a convenient place that makes your daily vitamins easy to take.

† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


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Markita Lewis, MS, RD

NatureMade Contributor

Markita has an interest in the biological, social, and cultural aspects of eating. She enjoys writing about nutrition and wellness, food justice and policy, cultural foodways, and the psychology of nutrition. You can find her at: www.wellnessandchill.com

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Lynn M. Laboranti, RD

Science and Health Educator

Lynn is a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and is a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team at Pharmavite. She has over 20 years of experience in integrative and functional nutrition and has given lectures to health professionals and consumers on nutrition, dietary supplements and related health issues. Lynn frequently conducts employee trainings on various nutrition topics in addition to educating retail partners on vitamins, minerals and supplements. Lynn has previous clinical dietitian expertise in both acute and long-term care, as well as nutrition counseling for weight management, diabetes, and sports nutrition. Lynn earned a bachelor’s of science in Nutrition with a minor in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from The Pennsylvania State University. She earned a M.S. degree in Human Nutrition from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Lynn is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, Dietitians in Functional Medicine, and holds a certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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